Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Victor RCA

I seem to be on a roll with beasts, babies and special vision aided by technology.That's what I do when I'm playing homealone#10, not sick enough to be abed but not well enough to blast off in madness.

My "roll" is okay as long as I don't get stuck worshiping the technology instead of the vision beyond it or the spiritual wisdom within its service.

A front page photo in this morning's Boston' Globe pictures President-elect Barack Obama flanked by his new and sadly necessary constant companions, armed policemen. That isn't unusual but at the center of the photo stands a little boy, looking to be either ten or six or eight and shiningly blond. He faces the
powers and stares up at Obama whose hand is outstretched. Obama wears an expression of compassionate distress as if he is saying "Oh no."

We can't see the boy's face and the caption tells us nothing about the photo just that Obama is at the Capitol to build support for his economic plan, see p.A6.
But the artful eye of the photographer captures the right moment. What would a child say?

Jesus famously told his followers that the wealth of the kingdom can be seen and realized by and in the presence of a child.
There are many interpretations of this wisdom, but for me just now it makes me think of Victor RCA.

Victor has two black eyes, one more than his RCA namesake, and his head usually cocks to one side or the other. He's a Jack Russell so he barks at most things, even strangers who are passing by outside and even when Victor isn't standing guard at the window. Victor's barking doesn't last long and once he knows you he 's all affection.

Our son John acquired Victor who at the time was homeless and a giveaway. It was love at first sight. John will say that Victor saved his life when he went through a life-threatening series of surgeries a few years ago.

Victor was/is a communicator of divine grace, always present, ready to love unconditionally—barking included in the love.
When John and Emily had their first child, Phoebe Catherine, they wondered how Victor would take the invasion, read how long and how much would he bark? When they brought Phoebe home Victor, instantly curious, did not bark at all. He merely sniffed and kissed in the rough wet lapping ways dogs do.

I'm still curious about the no barking. The new parents had given Victor one of Phoebe's wee hospital hats to condition him to her scent before she made her home debut. That was smart and likely helped. But no bark at all? I know Victor and he still barks at me before he kisses me. Maybe I should give him one of my hats? But I still wonder.

Maybe Victor's non-barking love had to do with the cap scent. It's best to do all you can to make things reconciling and peaceful even against strong odds like Victor's barking habit. It's good not to sit around expecting a miracle but to give a miracle an assist if you can.

But I think there's more, something like the presence of a child on the scene. A child changes things. A child can convert the hardest hearts, heal a whole family sometimes. I've seen this happen at an addictions intervention. After everyone had their persuasive but loving say, the littlest member of the family a four year old who understood nothing except that Grampa might need her to jump into his lap at that moment. The child swung it round.

A child might also stifle a Jack Russell's barking habit. Victor has remained non-barking with Phoebe. In fact he now tries to clean her ears with his sloppy kisses.

Maybe that little boy in the photo, who obviously touched Obama's heart, will stay with him in spirit-memory. Maybe the child will inspire the man to sell a hard package, even one involving taxes. It depends where you look. This press photographer caught grace in the eye of the camera.

Xray Vision

Just before Christmas this year I read an article in the Boston Globe (December 23, 1008) with this line in it: "The painting that is now a horizontal nativity was once a vertical crucifixion."

At first I thought it should be reversed— that the Renaissance painter, Jacopo Tintoretto, would have painted a Nativity scene before a Crucifixion scene. But not so. Using Xray technology at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, curators have discovered that the Tintoretto "Nativity" painted in 1580, contains a fascinating "hodgepodge" of images, a painting behind the painting.

To the trained eye "Nativity" has been an embarrassment, although it is enormous and presides over the museum's Koch gallery "It's off," said an asistant curator.

For example, a bearded shepherd, supposed after all to be entranced by the new baby in the crib is instead focused upward toward the sky not the central event. No parent in his or her right mind when snapping the one millionth photo of a newborn baby would aim for the sky.

It seems that the artist changed his mind and chopped up the original crucifixion canvas for reasons not known, pieced together a new vertical canvas, painted over the old subject matter and came up with "Nativity" (1580) It's a cut-and-paste job. It's not rare to paint over things but "to cannibalize your own picture is a very rare thing in European art," according to the curator.

Theories about Tintoretto's motivation abound of course, just as they do in a whodunnit mystery novel. It made me think of a line from Yeats' poem "The Magi." The poet describes the three sages silhouetted against the dark blue sky, traveling "hoping to find once more/ being by Calvary's turbulence unsatisfied,/ the uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor." (Now I have cannibalized the poem by lifting the lines from the whole. But that's what Xray vision is; it focuses you where you need to see more. And spiritual Xray vision can help us detect the Holy in the oddest places, like crucifixes and gathered stable beasts peering at a newborn.

I wonder if, like the Magi in the ancient biblical story, Tintoretto was also unsatisfied with the gruesome death scene and suddenly needed to remember and re-present the birth. By Xray both are there.

Too bad we can't just cut up life like a canvas and pick and choose the parts that satisfy us. But we can remember and most of us do. Nevertheless, life is a mixed bag and, unlike horse and carriage or love and marriage, you really can't have life without both birth and death, the vertical and the horizontal always present in shadow form, one hovering in the background as the other for a time takes center stage. Then they switch, like Tintoretto switched his canvas's in focus and direction.

But it's all there by Xray.

Medical science takes Xrays to find disease, yes, but to determine as well the proper focus for healing and life-saving treatments.

It is spiritually healing I think, for us to live as peacefully as we can with this annoying mix. For at any moment the worst can become the best. If you polish up your spiritual Xray vision you can find life in death, blessing in curse—and even the reverse.

Good religion is always about transformation, things not being what they seem. With soul vision (spiritual Xray) I can sometimes see, when I take time— gaze enough, assume divine presence and ask for it— the Holy in the vulnerable beastly flesh, resurrection hope in a suffering death, the picture behind the picture behind the picture.